At one end of the Italian restaurant spectrum, you’ve got your familyrun spaghetti joints, like the old line joints you’ll find in Louisville and North Denver. At the other, you’ve got your high-end spots, defined by pricey dishes like squid ink pasta and house-cured salumi, laboriously prepared meat not to be confused with salami. Carelli’s of Boulder straddles the line between these two extremes by serving up a menu that won’t frighten off the old-school cuisine fan while offering a swanky, up-to-the minute setting.
Reasonably health-conscious friend Kon and I recently visited here for lunch, and we basked in the ambience of warm colors, sensually curved surfaces and earthy wood and brick textures.
In cooler weather, a fireplace serves as a warming centerpiece, and spring brings a patio dining option, albeit one overlooking the parking lot. With such amenities, prices aren’t necessarily cheap, but they aren’t over the top either. The menu will warm the heart of the traditionalist craving a bowl of minestrone, followed by a main course such as pasta, cacciatore, calzone, pizza, risotto or a parmesan sandwich. Sandwiches, pastas and pizzas are also available in gluten-free versions.
The first thing to arrive was garlic bread, for some diners a throwback to childhood. The Carelli’s version may not please the food snob, but I found its buttery flavor complemented by mellow garlic compelling. It’s a crunchy treat I would have enjoyed as a 10-year-old and guiltily admit to still savoring.
There was a marked time lag between the bread and salads, a possible concern for the diner on a tight timetable. Kon was pleased to see his $6.95 spinach salad wasn’t too heavily freighted with bacon, lest it cancel out the healthful properties of the greens. The only flaw with my $6.95 Caesar was that the dressing was watery, although with fine flavor, especially with the bold addition of whole anchovies.
Kon dined like Neptune with his $16.95 risotto di mare, a paella-like mixture of short grain rice and highquality seafood. The test of any risotto is the firmness of the rice, and here it was nicely al dente with a whisper of softness. A little less salt would have made this one of the best in town, although the accompanying shellfish could mask nearly any deficiency. The hefty scallop tasted sweet with a touch of caramelizing on the outside, while the muscular shrimp possessed a sparkling flavor, as did the mussel. Angel hair con clam pasta is available for $11.95 with a choice of red or white sauce. I’ve always been partial to how the wine in a white sauce complements seafood, and so this was my choice. Like the risotto, the delicate angel hair possessed the correct consistency, and the delicate aroma of the medium-sized clams was beyond reproach. However, the flavor of the sauce was unbalanced, indicating that a key acidic ingredient, likely lemon juice or zest, was missing in action.
Carelli’s menu won’t surprise anyone who’s ever set foot in an Italian restaurant in the last 50 years. But that’s not a bad thing, as the bill of fare and décor are part of the considerable charm. Granted, the prices don’t lend themselves to daily dining, but Carelli’s effectively delivers classic dishes in an appropriate setting for a business meal or special occasion.
Carelli’s of Boulder
645 30th St. Boulder 303-938-9300
Clay’s Obscurity Corner San Francisco Italian
My personal frame of reference for Italian dining is the family-style restaurants of San Francisco’s North Beach, particularly Dante Benedetti’s New Pisa. Dad grew up next to North Beach in Chinatown and spent his youth playing ball and eating with the Italian kids. Not surprisingly, Dad would take us to the New Pisa, presided over by the longtime baseball coach at the University of San Francisco. Meals here were all-inclusive, starting with green salad, followed by minestrone. You could probably stop there, but you’d also get an entrée with pasta (my first encounter with pesto) and end with coffee and spumoni.